Healer, Heal Thyself

Lori Halpern,RN,BSN,CHHC

Registered Nurse

I've been a patient myself, and I firmly believe it's made me a better nurse and holistic health coach. I know what it feels like to be in a hospital, questioning everything and feeling like I have no control over what's happening to my health.

When I was younger, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I always saw myself helping others, but I wasn't sure in what capacity. I was never one of those people who had a clear-cut vision of my career path. I spent my early 20's moving around a lot, working different jobs. When I ended up leaving the Denver area and moving to Kansas City, that’s when I accepted a position at a clinic serving the uninsured. There were only five of us on staff, so as you can imagine — we did everything. I worked very closely with the nursing staff, and that was when I fell in love with nursing. It was amazing to witness the compassion the nurses showed their patients. They not only treated acute/chronic health conditions, but also focused on preventative care as well. It was then that I knew becoming a nurse was part of my future, when at last I found work I loved.

I ended up working at the clinic for five years, as well as attending nursing school. Right when I was graduating from nursing school, doctors found a cyst on my pancreas, which required major abdominal surgery for removal. The surgery was successful, but the recovery was intense. Being in that situation, as a patient and seeing things from that perspective, definitely shifted my thoughts about healthcare. It was then that I went full-force into the world of wellness. I started learning about different healing modalities: nutrition, massage therapy, yoga, and energy healing. I wanted to know anything and everything about staying well, mind, body, and soul. I figured I could pass that knowledge on to my patients. It was then that I learned the resilience of the human body.

Now I am the Outreach Coordinator for a program called Score 1 for Health at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Before this I worked in a variety of nursing areas, including HIV primary care, eating disorders, school nursing, and academia. This new role has brought me back to community health, which I have really enjoyed. Score 1 for Health is a preventative health program that provides free, in-school health screenings for elementary-aged children in greatest need, including urban core and low-income families from under-resourced neighborhoods. I oversee a team of nurses that focuses on the follow-up that occurs with families after the screenings are complete. Our goal is to make sure families understand their child's screening results and have the resources they need to access healthcare.

Now, in retrospect, between working in the healthcare field for more than 10 years and being a patient myself, it has shown me that there is a very real need for preventative care. I have my own part-time health coaching practice with the intention of expanding it into a full-time practice in the next year. I think everyone wants to feel their best, but what does that look like? How do we do that? My practice is about helping people find a wellness style that works for them to achieve a healthier, happier, and more effective life in a simple and sustainable way. Of course we are constantly changing, and what works at one time in your life as far as wellness might be different at another time.

I just recently had my first baby; it has been very interesting because I have had to completely shift my wellness routine. What I could do before I was pregnant is completely different than what I can do now. Let's just say it has been amazing and humbling at the same time. I have had to do a lot of reevaluating and prioritizing. In saying that, it's a lot for women who want to juggle a family, a career, and still practice self-care. I have been dedicated to my nursing career for 10 years; that's been the focus, so becoming a mother has been life-changing. I am thinking of shifting my health coaching practice to focus more on new moms. I think support for new moms is critical. Each mother has to figure out her own new version of life, and what is best for her and her family, which can be overwhelming at times.

I really want to discover a way for healthcare providers to not only care for patients, but also care for themselves, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Everyone working in the world of medicine is busy, and we often forget to care for ourselves. There is always more you feel like you could be doing. How can we avoid the compassion fatigue? That's what I want to figure out. It is easy to get caught in the cycle of doing, doing, doing. It would be great if we could add a course on self-care in nursing and medical school. I mean, if you can't take care of yourself, how can you take care of anybody else? It's the whole concept of "healer, heal thyself."  

My advice for nurses is to find work in this profession that you love. There are so many different types of nursing that you should never have to settle for a position that does not excite you. Pursue the type of nursing that lights you up. Your energy is contagious; patients deserve the best, as do you.  

Would I ever change anything? Never. Not one single thing. I would leave every part of my life exactly the same.

Lori has been passionate about health and nutrition for many years. As a registered nurse with over 10 years of healthcare experience she has witnessed the effects lifestyle choices and diet has on overall health and wellness and has found that care for the mind and body is essential to wellness. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO. Her nursing background includes community health, psychiatric health specializing in treatment of eating disorders, HIV primary care, and clinical adjunct faculty for Penn Valley Community College. Lori also has a holistic health coaching practice in which she works with people who are looking to improve their overall health through nutritional and lifestyle changes. You can read more about her practice here

Words: Lori Halpern